Backstage Interviews BottleRock's Rising Artists
If there’s a an acoustic indie rocker ‘type’, Billy Raffoul could be the dictionary definition. After watching his early afternoon set on BottleRock’s main stage, I was excited to interview him to delve into his persona and find out what is behind his music. The swagger he carries is unmistakable -- exactly what you think of a young, alternative rocker. He enters a room with long, wavy brown hair and an effortless smize. Raffoul has only been on the music scene for a year, releasing his first single ‘Driver’ last May, but you wouldn’t know it. Raffoul has already toured with the Kings of Leon, ZZ Ward, Mondo Cozmo, Judah & the Lion and is set to open for NEEDTOBREATHE this coming August. At just 23 years old, he has released several singles, collaborated with well-known producers Avicii and Kygo, and is about to release his first EP. NPR proclaims, “Billy Raffoul has stepped into the spotlight with a strong debut single that foreshadows a promising career as a songwriter and singer,” while TIME furthers, “Come for the poetry, stay for the anthemic guitar blaze.”
Somewhat shy and soft-spoken, it took a few minutes for Raffoul to warm up and be himself when answering questions and talking about his journey as a musician. Musically inspired by his father, Canadian singer Jody Raffoul, Billy grew up listening to and performing his father’s songs. He also frequently listened to The Beatles, The Troubadours, Neil Young and other rock artists, which is how he ultimately found his voice. As he grew older, Raffoul became a fan of bands like The Black Keys and The White Stripes and would go to their shows as often as he could. Watching their live shows as a teenager introduced Raffoul to the guitar, which he plays during his set in addition to a few other instruments here and there. Raffoul calls his own musical genre “a little bit of everything” that is hard to single into one category. When asked about his songwriting process, Raffoul says “It’s different every time. Songs that started as a melody or conversation then turned into a song, or some that started three or four years ago are only now turning into songs.”
His favorite song to perform right now is his newly released single “I’m Not a Saint,” in which he incorporates a foot pedal regime sounding like drums. His set on the first day of BottleRock was only his fifth or sixth show using the pedal; Raffoul says he’s always thinking of ways to make the show more creative. When I asked what he likes to do for fun besides music, he laughed and responded, “This is fun for me, anyone that knows me knows I don’t do anything else.” The answer of a true artist.
As I wrapped up the interview, Raffoul’s last comment was “This was so chill, just like hanging out.”
Raffoul has an EP release next month, and is opening for NEEDTOBREATHE’s Forever on Your Side Tour starting this August.
As Matt Maeson performed his set on the Lagunitas stage at BottleRock, you’d never know it was his first time with a full band or that he was having sound issues. Maeson poured his heart and soul into his performance, drawing in the people walking by and commanding the area that was at first overpowered by the sounds of Bleachers’ set on the main stage several hundred feet away. His powerful lyrics, unique stage presence, and passion for performing captured everyone’s attention. Fresh off a tour supporting Bishop Briggs and with two EP’s out, Maeson knew how to work the crowd and put on a lively show in the Napa Valley heat.
Maeson has an incredible background and got a unique start in the music world. He first started playing guitar and writing music at 15. He scored his first real show at an open mic night at a Chick Fil-A in Richmond, Virginia at 17 years old by winning a radio contest. However, after hitting rock bottom at age 21 by getting into some trouble and ending up in prison, he decided to join his parents’ traveling prison ministry and create family band. They performed at over 300 prisons across the country. Even after several headline acts under his belt, Maeson claims these shows are still some of the best he’s done — some of the inmates have not seen or heard live music in over 30 years.
When I asked about his pre-show ritual, without hesitation Maeson confessed he takes a shot of Jameson and says a prayer. He classifies his music as alternative rock-pop, and likes to write his music alone, unless there’s an opportunity to co-write with someone he truly respects. With his first EP titled Who Killed Matt Maeson about the struggle of maturing into an adult plus his newly released EP The Hearse, Maeson has got quite the story to tell. He says many songs on his most recent EP are like conversations between two people, “like a battle between our self-destructive inner self and our good, moral, and successful self”. The lyrics are soulful and intense, making them all the better to hear live. Maeson has an upcoming headline show in LA, a few other summer festivals, and is hoping to release his first full length album by late fall 2018. Catch him on tour this fall -- you won’t want to miss his impressive performance and the connection you will no doubt feel afterwards.
At 2pm on the third day of BottleRock, The Wrecks took the stage. As soon as the five piece band broke out into their first song, concertgoers were (literally) running from all over to join the crowd. Lead vocalist Nick Anderson, in his bright yellow Camel cigarette jacket and glasses, sang and danced as if nobody was watching (even though everybody was not only watching, but was jealous about how much fun this young boy band was having). The Wrecks and their music aren’t well known yet, but the crowd of a few thousand didn’t need to know all the lyrics to have a great time watching them play. The energy coming from the stage was magnetic, and each member of the band knew exactly how to get the crowd going despite their lack of familiarity. You have Westen Weiss and Nick Schmidt on guitar, Nick Anderson on guitar and vocals, Aaron Kelley on the bass, and Billy Nally on drums—all coming together to create undeniably catchy choruses with quirky lyrics and vocals, giving them their youthful, signature sound. The Wrecks perform with such genuine passion and excitement, and they did not disappoint.
When it came time to interview these five young guys, it was a bit like herding cats in the media room as their tour manager was nowhere to be found and they didn’t know where to go or what to do. Each of them sipped on a special cocktail from the festival’s artist lounge that they enjoyed telling me about, but they were still semi-unengaged until prodded with the right questions. Needless to say, it was difficult to keep their attention the whole time as side conversations branched out or other distractions in the media room caught their gaze. Either way, I was excited to learn more about them after watching such an incredibly fun 45 minute set.
I first wanted to know how they came together as a 5-piece band, thinking maybe they played together in high school and were all old friends. To my surprise, they met through a fishing blog on Tumblr. Each of them loves to fish and became semi-connected through the blog, while doing music on the side. Nick Anderson said he was the one who “started a fishing blog” while the other Nick chimed in, “We’re all big fishers.” I wasn’t sure if they were being serious or not. They then get into the types of fishing they like and went off on tangents, at which point I was still lost as to how this connected them to forming a band.
“So I started a fishing blog…” repeated Nick Andersen, continuing that three members are from New Jersey, one is from Wisconsin, and one is from New York. They met and started conversing via the fishing blog, while two members already knew each other. In their final answer on how they met they claimed that a lot of fishermen also play guitar, and the power of the internet is how they came together. Eventually all moved to Los Angeles to make music and called themselves The Wrecks.
Another quirky thing about this boy band is their pre-show warm up. When I asked what it was, Weiss asked his bandmates, “Should we do it?” while Schmidt replied “It’s the meat sale.” They all proceeded to harmonize together and sing about a meat sale. I couldn’t describe this little song if I tried, but it was inspired by an actual meat sale in Westen Weiss’ hometown, broadcasted on the radio.
Every other comment or sentence coming from these guys was a joke—weeding out the actual information about them was somewhat of a challenge. They say they let other people classify their music, and hope their new album will leave people confused and leave themselves in an uncategorized genre. “At the end of the day, we’re The Wrecks, a music band” Nick Anderson chimed.
As if their story isn’t already quirky, their first EP came after a failed attempt from too many producers and managers to make The Wrecks sound a certain way. They ended up scrapping their work, going to Nick Anderson’s grandmother’s house in upstate New York, and recording in a next door neighbor’s barn (which also happened to have a recording studio inside). They produced and made their own record during the summer of 2017, called Panic Vertigo.
By the end of the interview we were talking about how great The Killers’ set was the previous day, agreeing that their frontman Brandon Flowers blew us all away -- chatting as if we were all old friends. Throughout the conversation they teased each other as you’d expect a young boy band to do, eager to gain attention and space in the music world. I was thoroughly impressed with their musical performance as well as their personality as a band. For the rest of 2018 they plan to record and make their first full length album back in the same barn the EP and first single (We Are the Wrecks) were born.